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Amparo Bertram

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11:49 am: 2015 Board Game Top 10 Lists
It's that time again, when I summarize my year of gaming with a bunch of lists. This year I will be dropping the "most played" category, because my gaming opportunities are so irregular and random, it just doesn't help much as a metric.

Top Ten New Unplayed Games

10. Epic
I backed this game (from the designers of the excellent Star Realms) on Kickstarter because I was hoping they would reach the stretch goal for Solo/Cooperative rules. Unfortunately, they set the goal absurdly high, and it was not reached. I then hoped that the designers would develop such rules anyway, because it would be good for business by expanding the base of players interested in the game, but they have shown no signs of doing so. If they don't release official solo/coop rules by next year, I'm planning to trade it away for something I might actually play.


9. Yin-Yang Dice
I hadn't planned on buying this game, but when I saw it in a game shop on our August trip to Tokyo, I couldn't resist the pretty colors. I'm not a huge fan of dice games in general, but this one has a bit of strategy to it. It's rather abstract, though, and I don't foresee many people being interested in playing it with me.


8. Kobito-san no Yasaibatake (Vegetable Garden of the Wee Folk)
This is a game I got from the Tokyo Game Market. I think the theme is adorable. However, the game mechanics are relatively abstract, and it relies a lot on reading text on cards (all in Japanese), so I'm not likely to get a chance to play it with anyone.


7. Sougen to Hitsuji to Kaze to (Plains and Sheep and Wind)
This is another Tokyo Game Market item, in which the characters are members of a family in Mongolia. Each family member has a different role to fill in order to help the family succeed. I thought it was an original theme with attractive art and creative game mechanics. However, although it does use a lot of icons, it is still hard to get games with Japanese text played.


6. Shimanchu
This Tokyo Game Market game has Euro-style play with a theme of "island life." I think it would be interesting to try, but once again, it's hard to get Japanese games played without other Japanese speakers nearby.


5. Tides of Time
This is a 2-player card drafting microgame. I bought it because it is portable, quick to play, and received good reviews. Also, I enjoy drafting as a game mechanism. The main problem is that I almost never get 2-player games to the table.


4. Arboretum
This is a light set-collection card game that has received good reviews. I mainly bought it for the pretty tree art and portability. I haven't gotten to play it yet, but chances are actually good for this one.


3. Raiders of the North Sea
This Viking-themed worker placement game has interesting, quirky art and lots of good quality components. I'm hoping those factors will help in getting it played.


2. Sukimono
This game actually came out in 2012, so it isn't as new as the other items on the list, but I only acquired it in August. It is a Japanese game, but it requires no language ability at all, so I think it has a better than average chance of being played.


1. Orleans: Deluxe Edition
This is a hefty Euro with custom pieces that has received excellent reviews. A new expansion (which I haven't purchased yet) adds solo and coop rules. I'm really looking forward to giving this one a try.



Top Ten Games of 2015

Honorable Mention: The Dragon and the Emperor
I would consider it cheating to include my own game on the list, but I do enjoy it, and it is a 2015 game. Therefore, I have reserved it a spot as an honorable mention.


10. Incredible Expeditions: Quest for Atlantis
This is a thematic cooperative game...and that's about the most I can say about it. I tend to look more for engaging game mechanics, and this one doesn't offer as much in that department as other games that I own. It certainly puts a lot of work into bringing out the theme though.


9. Minerva
This city-building tile game from Japan relies on resource management, as players activate production in their cities to generate more resources used for the purchase of more buildings to score points. It's entertaining, though not particularly original.


8. Neanderthal
This game is a simulation of early hominid species and their struggle to survive during the last Ice Age. Players must use the power of their species vocabulary to coordinate hunting, marriage, and other activities to advance their cultures. I don't foresee getting much chance to play this complex game with others, but the theme is interesting, it's compact, and it can be played solitaire, so it has a number of advantages.


7. Norsaga
This is a quick card game in which players tell tall tales about their family trees, with each generation giving them more special abilities, while trying to include specific attributes among the ancestors. The theme is original and the art is pleasantly quirky. As a bonus, it allows for same-sex couples.


6. Frontier Stations
This game is essentially "cooperative Machi Koro in space." It's a light game that relies on dice rolls to produce resources that must be managed by players to mitigate threats. It requires a minimum of 3 players, though, so its playability is somewhat less flexible than some of the other games on the list.


5. Codenames
This word-based party game is entertaining, and I like that it can be played cooperatively. I would reserve it for larger groups, because I think it doesn't have the same excitement with a small number of players.


4. Scoville
While this is technically listed as a 2014 game, I acquired my Kickstarter copy in January 2015, so I consider it a 2015 product. It has a similar feel to Fresco, using the mechanism of collecting various colored wooden bits and turning them in for points, with the added interest of a plant breeding theme.


3. Between Two Cities
This is a light city-building tile drafting game that has players sharing cities between them. The shared city mechanism gives the game a cooperative feeling, even though it is still a competitive game that only one player will win in the end. It also includes solo rules, making it quite versatile. The components are excellent, and it comes in a small box, making it relatively portable.


2. Roll for the Galaxy
Although a 2014 release, this was not widely available until 2015. I'm a huge fan of its predecessor, Race for the Galaxy, so this one was a no-brainer. It streamlines several aspects of the game compared to the card version, making it easier to teach to new players


1. The Big Book of Madness
In this cooperative game, players are student wizards trying to survive with their sanity intact after freeing monsters from a special book. The decisions about how to use the cards make for an excellent brain-burny puzzle, and good teamwork is essential. The pretty art doesn't hurt. I hope to get a lot of plays out of this game.



Top Ten Favorite Games

10. Tajemnicze Domostwo (aka Mysterium)
This cooperative game gets more plays than most others in my collection because it is good with such a wide range of groups. It's easy to teach and fun with player numbers from 2 to 7. An English version is now available (with slightly tweaked components and rules).


9. Race for the Galaxy
I always find this deeply strategic card game thrilling to play. Its biggest problem is that it it extremely difficult to teach to new players. It's a good thing that the Gathering Storm expansion comes with a superb solitaire variant.


8. Fairy Tale
This portable card drafting game has gorgeous art and simple rules. It can handle from 2 to 5 players, making it quite flexible. The complicated scoring and the attack cards are the only drawbacks.


7. Roll for the Galaxy
This dice rolling implementation of Race for the Galaxy plays just as quickly and is easier to teach. I played a game of it with my neighbors, and they didn't have any trouble picking up the rules. It doesn't have an official solo version yet (one thing that makes the card game so outstanding), but I'm hopeful that one will be developed eventually.


6. Arctic Scavengers
This thematic deckbuilding game is a lot of fun, offering the players many options on each turn. I only wish the official solo rules released with the latest expansion actually worked.


5. Mage Knight Board Game
This fantasy game is a cross between a dungeon crawl and a deckbuilder. It is truly epic in scale--my first solitaire game took me over eight hours (played over 5 days). Granted, that includes some time spent learning the rules, but it gives you some idea. Every turn, there is so much to consider, so many courses of action, it will set your brain on fire. It can be played as a competitive game, but it also works as a cooperative adventure, and it has been overwhelmingly voted as the best solitaire board game on the market. (A new, revised version with a Star Trek theme will be released in 2016, called Star Trek: Frontiers.)


4. Imperial Settlers
This civilization-building resource-management game has adorable art and components and thinky game play without being too heavy. Expansions allow for greater variability, including constructing decks to suit the players' tastes, and there is an official set of rules for a solo campaign.


3. The Big Book of Madness
This recently released cooperative deckbuilding game has beautiful art by the same person who illustrated Takenoko and Tokaido. Every turn forces the players to make tough choices and work together with careful timing to beat the game. This would have shot up to the #1 spot on my list, except for one tiny flaw, which is that I really don't like the backstory for the characters as written. It doesn't affect the actual game play, but it impacts my perception of the game as a whole.


2. Dominion
It will be extremely hard for any game to dethrone Dominion, the granddaddy of deckbuilders. It's so much fun with so much replayability and accessible to such a wide range of players that I'd be happy to pull it out on almost any occasion.


1. Morels
Portable, quick, easy to teach, beautiful, peaceful, and thinky, all at the same time. This game is excellence in a tidy package.



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